Should I Fly East or West?

Recently, I met a good friend for dinner who wanted some travel guidance before booking her first flight to the land down under (a reference to the 80s hit by ‘Man at Work’ about an Australian traveler).

She is not new to international travel, but this would be her first major long-haul flight (long-haul classically defined as flights lasting more than 7 hours).  She came with very good questions:

  • Is it better to fly east or west for such a long flight?
  • Do I need a visa to visit Australia?
  • I’m considering adding in a short trip to Sydney.  How do I add that in without dramatically increasing costs?

Later, I wondered how many of our clients also wondered about similar questions when planning long-haul flights.  So before you book your next flight, consider the following:

1. Jet lag is harder when going east, but it can be faster with less flight connections

See, your body clock naturally runs longer than 24 hours.  When you travel west you gain hours which makes it easier for the body to adjust because you now have the extra time it wants.  Traveling east, the day is dramatically shortened making it that much harder to adjust because the natural cycle is now limited.

BUT, something else to consider when booking long-haul flights is how many connections you will have to reach your final destination.  The risk of missed or lost bags (and missed flights) increases with the number of connections you have.

Lastly, consider that flying east – albeit harder on the body – is often faster than flying west because of the extra oopmh planes get from the jet stream.

I checked the price from Dulles to Perth, Australia and the difference to fly west (via LAX with 2 connections and flight time of 38 hours) versus east (via Doha with 1 connection and flight time of 31 hours) was $100.

I’d fly through Doha.

2. Do I need a visa?

The U.S. State Department keeps an updated list of country-specific entry & exit requirements.  This is a great place to start your research.  If you still have questions about specific requirements or need assistance in processing your visa paperwork, please feel free to contact me.

3. Why are multi-leg tickets sometimes way more expensive?

Does anything regarding airfare pricing make sense?
Honestly, it depends.

Let’s pretend you have the following itinerary:
IAD>PERTH>SYDNEY>IAD

To price the flight as one itinerary with all stops is called “multi-leg.”  This routing will generally be much more expensive because it includes numerous one-way legs forming a “closed loop.”

Instead, I’d recommend “open jaw” tickets where the traveler books a trip into Perth and departs from Sydney.  Open jaw tickets provide greater flexibility for the traveler and are less expensive than purchasing individual one-way tickets. In this example, there are a number of regional, low-fare airlines that the traveler can choose to get them from Perth to Sydney.

I often book open jaw tickets when traveling to Europe using trains or other low-fare airlines to get me around while on the continent.

(I don’t profess to fully understand all the ins and outs related to airfare pricing, so this may vary depending on destinations, time of year, etc.)

Leave a comment and let me know:

Would you fly east or west?
Do those factors mean more than price?

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